How has he managed this feat? Well, there are several tricks.
|This damn guy|
Duncan has an explanation for those flat 12th grade scores-- because the graduation rate is up, more weak students are taking the NAEP, and so keeping the scores flat is a win. Yay? Anyway, graduation rates are up, so that's more proof of ed reform success, except that, of course, whether those diplomas actually mean anything other than districts have learned how to game the system with credit recovery and other baloney-- well, never mind. There's probably some real gain there, and that's not a bad thing. The numbers are up, so woohoo.
Duncan asserts that progress happened because "we confronted hard truths, raised the bar and tried new things." I guess this depends on how one defines "we," as most of the "new things" attempted under Obama-Duncan were just leftovers from the Bush administration. Duncan has tried to blame the issues of ed reform on many things. This time, our key word is "courage."
Beginning in 2002, federal law required annual assessments tied to transparency. The law forced educators to acknowledge achievement gaps, even if they didn’t always have the courage or capacity to address them.
Ah, yes. One of the legacies of Obama-Duncan ed reform-- relentless blaming of teachers for everything. Now it turns out we weren't courageous enough.
But this notion that test-based accountability "revealed" achievement gaps is baloney. Educators knew where the gaps were. We've4 always known where the gaps were. We've screamed about the gaps. I don't believe any teacher in this country picked up test results and said, "I'll be damned! I had no idea these non-white, non-wealthy students were having trouble keeping up!" At best, test-based accountability was a tool to convince policy makers who would listen to data spreadsheets before they would listen to teachers. And even then, policy makers didn't look at the data and say, "Well, we'd better help these schools out." Instead, all the way up to Duncan's office, they responded with, "Well, let's target this school for closure or conversion or a growth opportunity for some charter operators."
This, it turns out, is another thing Arne "Katrina's Destruction of NOLA Public Ed Is a Great Thing" Duncan counts as success- three million students in charter school. He cites Boston as a win (again, debateable) but ignores the widespread fraud, corruption and failure that charters have been prone to nationally. (And he insists on talking about "years of learning" as a way to measure this.)
And then there's this, as Duncan discusses the "successes."
Again, it did not happen by standing still. It happened because of common-sense changes such as increased learning time, more early learning, a deeper focus on the quality of principals and teachers, and a bright light on the data. Whether you call it reform, improvement or plain old hard work, it is making a difference for kids.
This is like having someone make you go on a tofu and grease diet and then declaring that your health gains are the result of eating off clean plates. Duncan's list is notable for all the reform ideas it doesn't mention, like Common Core and charter schools and test-centered schooling. Of the three things it does mention, increased learning time and more early learning are not ideas reformsters get to take credit for. Deeper focus on quality of teachers and principals never happened-- we just started using test scores to try to threaten and punish folks. Bright light on the data? Also no-- just an unhealthy focus on test scores.
Duncan is sad that there aren't more charter schools. Hardly anybody is getting teacher evaluation right. And while studies say that the Obama-Duncan school turnaround programs failed, Duncan has one study (a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research) that says "the boldest interventions get the best results."*
So, you know, reform was awesome, and did some stuff that was, you know, swell. Why is everyone suddenly picking on it?
Duncan blames politics.
Both ends of the political spectrum resist accountability. Some blame poverty and demand more money while abdicating responsibility for results. Others seem more concerned with process and limiting the federal role than with actual student outcomes.
Nope. This old bullshit about how folks in education just want more money and use poverty as an excuse for poor results is still just bullshit. Nobody makes that argument. Duncan's argument that we can use the power of expectations to overcome everything is just not reality based. And while it is true that some on the right believe that we should offer choice for its own sake without regard for how it turns out, how exactly is that different from Obama-Duncan policy? Exactly when and where and how did Duncan come down hard in favor of charter oversight and accountability? Duncan can continue to pretend that Betsy DeVos represents some radical departure from his policy on charters and choice, but it's simply not so. Duncan helped create this mess, and making an innocent face while saying, "Hey, gee, somebody knocked over your public schools while you were out. I don't know how it happened" won't absolve him of blame.
Duncan has tried a variety of history rewrites for his administration (only politicians hated Common Core! charter school magic unleashed! ESSA was not a reaction against his work! CCSS should have been rolled out faster!) But all of his reflections stumble over the same problem-- Duncan simply refuses to acknowledge the damage that his policies have done to public education. Here he is acting puzzled again--
Some have taken the original idea of school choice — as laboratories of innovation that would help all schools improve — and used it to defund education, weaken unions and allow public dollars to fund private schools without accountability.
No, Arne! Not "some." Not some faceless mysterious group of folks. You. You and the people that you empowered and encouraged and cheered on and backed with your policies. You did that.
You further enabled that by rolling out Common Core, which was not a secret Commie plot to make everyone stupid and gay, but which was also not a well-crafted set of standards created by educators, but instead a half-assed bunch of baloney created by amateurs. And that all happened without even having an evidence-based discussion of whether or not national standards are even useful for creating better education.
Not only that, but you and yours used the standards to push the idea that America's teachers (and their unions) didn't know what the hell they were doing, and that they had no particular expertise. That, in fact, education is something above and beyond the ability to teachers to understand and implement, and that "experts" were needed to make the standards work. You treated teachers and their unions as an obstacle rather than the front line troops of education. You had the opportunity to listen to the experts in public education and talk about how the feds could help with very real problems and challenges; instead, you belittled public schools and dismissed the teachers who work there.
And you elevated test-centered accountability, one of the most destructive forces unleashed on public education. By tying threats and punishment to the Big Standardized Test, you encouraged schools to narrow curriculum, cut programs, and center the entire school around test results. Test-centered accountability has turned schools upside down-- now they do exist to serve students, but instead students exist to serve the school by generating data to make the school look good enough to avoid punishment. The stress on students and teachers, and the many educational experiences lost to this scourge are unfathomable.
You failed so spectacularly that you prompted a rare bi-partisan repudiation of your policies in the ESSA. And you set the stage for a Betsy DeVos, who could convincingly argue that the federal government has proven itself incompetent to involve itself in education. Your policies have made public education itself look bad. You and yours managed to diminish one of the most fundamental institutions of this country.
Ed Reformers who have called out the failures of reform mostly fall back on one simple observation-- these reforms have been the status quo for over a decade. If charters were going to revolutionize education, it would have happened by now. If the Common Core (or whatever a state is calling them) were going to make education greater, they would have done it by now. If test-centered accountability was going to vastly improve public education, we'd see it by now. If treating education professionals like cheap hired help was going to energize teaching, it would have happened by now.
But it hasn't happened. None of it has happened.
You're reduced to saying that some fourth grade scores are up, graduation rates may be up, and plenty of entrepreneurs are making money running charter schools.
Your suggestion is that people just lack the bravery: "Our efforts to improve school have worked well where people have led with courage." But the only place courage has helped is in those schools where leaders have had the courage to stand against ed reform policies, to reject the BS Test, to stand up for students.
I'm sitting here steaming, kind of surprised that Duncan can still make me angry in ways that Betsy DeVos cannot. But DeVos has never pretended to be anything but what she is-- a rich lady who believes that public education should be abolished and that people should stay in their proper place. Duncan maintains an infuriating tendency to douse the building in kerosene, light a match, and as the flames leap high, shout, "See how much better this is! I don't understand how people can complain about this." And while there's no question that DeVos wants to destroy public education, Duncan set the stage for her-- and he won't own it.
Here's my own version of current history. Many people are saying that ed reform policies failed because they are using their eyes and ears to see that ed reform policies failed. I get that Duncan would want to protect his legacy, particularly during this administration-- if Obama had discovered a cure for cancer, Trump would make burn it and bury the ashes. But his refusal to face reality was a liability when he was in office, and it's not serving him well now. If Arne Duncan wants to talk about courage, then he needs to start by confronting the truth about the damage caused by policies that he pursued. Until he can do that, he needs to just go sit in his think tank.
*Here's an excerpt from the abstract:
Using data from California, this study leverages these two discontinuous eligibility rules to identify the effects of SIG-funded whole-school reforms. The results based on these “fuzzy” regression-discontinuity designs indicate that there were significant improvements in the test-based performance of schools on the “lowest-achieving” margin but not among schools on the “lack of progress” margin. Complementary panel-based estimates suggest that these improvements were largely concentrated among schools adopting the federal “turnaround” model, which compels more dramatic staff turnover.